Sunday, July 5, 2009

Help the poor? Nah...

Every nation, or at least every developed, civilized country, sees its foremost duty to make sure the less privileged - or simply poor - citizens be given all kinds of services and formalities that it can afford for free or at least subsidized. In India, where about 40% of the population, or about 450 million inhabitants are considered poor; or in my definition and the realilty, they are just awfully destitute, living in a despicable and horrific state of living. Now the Indian government, boosted by years of double digit economic surplus, and mostly to gain some populist votes, has decided to announce some ambitious, maybe even too optimistic, aid packages similar to the US's medicare and social security benefits. Some of these include guaranteeing two meals a day for everyone, secondary education for everyone, and at least three months of employement for every able and willing worker in India. This is exaclty where the problem and protest begins.
India has long been a country and culture where castes and social status define an individual; the higher castes, usually well off in a amazingly disproportionate manner, tend to segregate themselves socially and mentally from the destitutes, who are merely 'surviving', nor really living. They dont offer any help or aid, apart for some religious ceremonies, nor do they expect the government to do such. The prevalent belief is that government should only help those who help themselves - small business owners and entrepreneurs offering some service of some kind, not the blatant panhandlers and villagers who demand aid and subsidy on every thing possible. They see it as a duty of the state to provide them with basic necessities for as minimum compensation as possible, other than their useful vote for the respective party in power.
This is something that the affordable indian class, middle class and above tend to oppose the government, and thus creating rift between them and the lower masses. They think, and I agree, that just as in American culture, people who are given aid often tend to accept it as a right, becoming dependent solely on it, and then later demanding even more. Especially amongst the tax payers, who have no real way of saving money for retirement other than personal savings rather than 401k plans in the US, they believe and stongly assert that the government is misusing their funds to provide excessively to the poor, just to gain the mighty votes. It is an epitome of the battle of Populism vs Pragmatism. And I, being as astute realist, agree with the notion that the poor should not be given sustainable aid; i.e. the aid should be temporary and minimal in nature so that they dont become over dependent and hungry for more. After all the poor, the ones living on the $2 a day, are the highest group in terms of child births and illegal commodities. By giving them ample, we cannot convey the message that everything will be taken care of in the future as well, instead the government needs to warn them, however harsh that sounds, that if the state of affairs continues as they are, they might be completely on their own.

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